The McClellan Saddle

Quite often (maybe a half dozen times a year) I get a question or email about the McClellan saddle.  My buddy Mike Nugent, who is a retired Armored Cavalry officer and descendant of 6th US Cavalry trooper Pvt. Joseph Charlton (wounded at Fairfield), wrote a great piece on the saddle for my “Bufords Boys” website.  Since the website isn’t back up and running yet, I thought I’d put up the saddle page here.  Hopefully my readers will be interested in this detail and that it will answer a lot of questions.  Mike also did a great page on cavalry flags and guidons, which I will reproduce here shortly.

The 1859 McClellan Military Saddle

During the American Civil War there were a variety of saddles in use by the Federal Cavalry.  The Model 1847 Grimsley saddle remained popular, especially among Dragoon veterans, and the Hope saddle and Model 1861 Artillery Drivers saddle saw cavalry service as well.  The Model 1859 McClellan, however, was by far the most common saddle used by Union horse soldiers.

Figure 1: “Near”  side view

Six years before the Civil War, then Captain George Brinton McClellan served as a member of a military commission to study European military tactics, weapons, and logistics.  While in Europe, McClellan observed battles during the Crimean War, focusing on the organization of Engineer and Cavalry forces.  On his return to the United States, McClellan proposed a cavalry manual adapted from the Russian Cavalry.  He also developed a cavalry saddle which was a modification of a Hungarian model used in the Prussian service and included features found in Mexican and Texan saddles as well as characteristics of the Hope, Campbell, and Grimsley saddles.

Under Secretary of War (and future President of the Confederacy) Jefferson Davis, the Army conducted field trials to determine the most practical and efficient equipment for the Cavalry and Dragoons.  In addition to the new saddle developed by McClellan, a number of other styles were considered including the standard service Grimsley, the Hope, Campbell, and a Jones “adjustable tree” saddle.

Serviceability and cost were factors that contributed to the Army’s adoption of the McClellan saddle over its competition.  The “horn” on the Hope saddle was undesirable for a military saddle and construction of the Campbell and Grimsely saddles used large amounts of leather and brass, increasing both cost and weight.  The McClellan saddle was simple, less expensive, lightweight, sturdy, and durable.  Its open-tree design allowed one of three sizes to comfortably fit most horses.  The saddle was adopted by the War Department in 1859 and nearly half a million were produced before the end of the Civil War.

Figure 2:  “Off” side view with saddle bags and side fenders attached

The McClellan saddle features an open, metal-reinforced wooden tree.  Saddle skirts of harness leather are screwed to the sidebars.  The rigging is similar to that found on the Hope saddle.  Stirrups are hickory or oak.  The prototype Model 1857 McClellan saddles had the wooden tree covered with a thin, varnished, black leather cover.  The stirrups were hoodless and also covered with varnished leather.  All hardware on the saddles was made of polished brass.  The Model 1859 (the model selected for adoption) featured a more durable rawhide-covered tree.  Stirrups were of bare wood and stirrup hoods were added.  The 1861 Ordnance Manual called for the brass hardware to be replaced with “blued” iron, although in practice the iron hardware was usually “japanned,” covered in a durable black varnish.

Accessories for the McClellan saddle included small saddle bags, a nose bag for the horse’s grain, a curry comb, picket pin, and lariat.  A thimble or “boot” on the right or “off” side of the saddle held the muzzle of the cavalryman’s carbine.

Figure 3:  Detail of the rawhide-covered, open tree

Three slots in the cantle (reinforced with brass fittings) allowed leather straps to secure a blanket roll.  Similarly, the saddle’s pommel had a slot and two iron fittings where three more straps could secure a blanket roll or overcoat.  Iron rings allowed for the easy attachment of canteens or other accouterments.  Although contrary to regulations, cavalrymen frequently attached their sabers to the left or “near” side of the saddle.  The saddle was generally used with a Model 1859 Dragoon saddle blanket, blue and bordered with an orange stripe (the Dragoon branch of service cover), rather than with the more ornate shrabraques or saddle coverings.

Confederate cavalrymen prized captured McClellan saddles.  By 1862 saddlers in the Confederacy were manufacturing copies with russet leather and even tarred or painted linen rigging.

After the Civil War the McClellan saddle went through a number of modifications.  Budgetary concerns and the huge stockpile of saddles in the Army’s inventory ensured that it remained in service despite several recommendations that it be replaced.  The Model 1904 and Model 1913 McClellan saddles were again produced in large numbers during World War I, and remained in service until the Army disbanded its mounted units at the dawn of World War II.  After serving the Cavalry for more than 80 years, McClellan saddles are still commonplace in mounted police units around the United States.

Published in: on May 30, 2007 at 11:19 am  Comments (33)  

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33 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] The McClellan SaddleAccessories for the McClellan saddle included small saddle bags, a nose bag for the horse s grain, a curry comb, picket pin, and lariat. A thimble or boot on the right or off side of the saddle held the muzzle of the cavalryman […]

  2. asdf

  3. I have a old cavalry saddle that I’m trying to further identify – is there a chance I could email you a photo to see if you’ve got any ideas ?


  4. Glad to ‘re-find’ your info. I love my reproduction 1859 McClellan, and use it as my everyday saddle. They knew what they were doing back then. I would like to see an image of where to attach (and find) a cup for a guidon.

    Thanks for the great cavalry info.


  5. I have an old saddle, military, which my father said was from the civil war. I was wondering if there is a way to find out the value of this saddle

  6. I have a 1904/1905 McClellan Russet Saddle with original saddle bags, it is an original and had never been on a horse. I mounted it on my horse to see what it rides like and love the way it feels. It is light weight and I feel very secure in it. My question is, am I making a mistake using this saddle? I would probably never sell it as it was on display in my family room for years before I decided to try it out. Your thoughts?

  7. I have a very old saddle and am trying to learn the value. What is the best way to do this? It is a McClellan and I believe it is about 1900.


  8. I have a very old saddle and am trying to learn something about it,age value ect. It is a McClellan and I believe it is about 1900 with the following information on it. H-SS.Co. initiJ.E.M thanks,Don

  9. On April 1, 2009 at 2:55 pm Don Ljungblad Said:
    I have a very old saddle and am trying to learn something about it,age value ect. It is a McClellan and I believe it is about 1900 with the following information on it. H-SS.Co. initiJ.E.M thanks,Don

    • Did you ever find any information about the saddle? A friend recently passed and his family is looking to me to figure out if this saddle has any value. thanks

  10. I have a brown original leather bound McClellan saddle tree with brass hardware. The brass crest on the pommel has a C5 stamped in it. 5th Cavalry I assume, but Union or Confederate? How much is it worth etc? Can you help answer these questions?

  11. I also have an old Mc Clellan saddle, approx 1904 with 11 1/2 seat ,covered stirrups stamped with US on front of each, woven cotton girth, including a bitt with a US round stamped button on each side. Fairly good shape, Inherited from father that passed away in 1976
    Where and how can I get it appraised???

  12. 33 years ago, I Inherited a McClellan saddle approximate 1904 model, 11 1/2 seat with covered stirrups that are stamped with US on front of each, cotton woven girth, fairly good to excellent condition.
    Includes a bridle bit with a US emblem on each side.
    Where and how can I get an appraisal ??

  13. I have a old mcclellan 1896 in fair shape. It has a offisers name rank unit on back side seat. wood it be better leaving it as is or can I recover all but name part.??

  14. I am restoring a 1904 McClellan from scratch. I am looking for brass hardware. The large rigging rigs. Is there a construction manual available? Would appreciate any help with this project.

  15. I am restoring a 1904 McClellan from scratch. I am looking for brass hardware. The large rigging rings. Is there a construction manual available? Would appreciate any help with this project.

  16. Check with Jackson’s in Asheville, NC. They do saddle restoration and would probably be able to find you the parts you need. I just bought a 1904 russet McClellan (with fenders) from them (on a whim) the other day. Fits my mustang like a glove. I retired my old Civil War Confederate version a few years back (used it for foxhunting, of all things). I hadn’t sat a McClellan in about 10 years and almost forgot what a comfortable saddle a McClellan is (provided you ride with a proper seat, that is ;D ).

  17. I have a old black McClellan, belonged to my wife’s grandfather. It has one side fender and steel stirrup. Trying to get a approx. age.

  18. You can check out this site at to see the various incarnations and varieties of the McClellan saddle for a more positive identification. A lot of times the stirrups and leathers were changed by the cavalrymen themselves, especially if they were officers. The standard stirrup leathers generally were set up so the adjustment buckle was placed in a particularly annoying location (right in the middle of your shin) that caused discomfort even with boots or leggings. Or they could have been added by subsequent owners of the saddle after it’s military life ended.

  19. We have an old, what looks to be, military pack saddle. Needing to know about it and what it is worth. I can send a pic. If you can help, just let me know. Thank you!

  20. Can you upload a picture to a free service like image shack and post the URL?

  21. So many mistakes in the above text I don’t have time to list them. This is mostly made up of folklore and hearsay, modern research has disproven much of what is stated here.
    Todd Kern

  22. SO many mistakes I don’t have time to go into the folklore debunking. Todd kern

    • Quote: “SO many mistakes I don’t have time to go into the folklore debunking. Todd kern”

      Could you be more specific? Such a blanket statement needs to be qualified to support the credibility of your comment. And which text are you specifically referring to? The posts or the actual article at the top of the page? Please give a specific example of an error based upon folklore. Your post is nebulous as to what you are talking about.

  23. Yes, Tood, I’d like to hear specifically what you mean. Mike Nugent is one of the most knowledgable folks regarding historical and modern saddles around – I suspect it’s you who may not know what you’re talking about.

  24. I recently found an old McClellan saddle being sold at a yard sale after the people cleared out a 200 year old barn. Have been cleaning, it and found a date of 1918 on the girth. Have ridden both English and Western extensively, but was ecstatic to find an army saddle. They are the most secure and comfortable saddle out there.

  25. I have a McClellan..On the rear leather is stamped
    S & R under this is stamped; P. P. F.
    Any info on this saddle would be greatly appreciated.
    Fredy Ryan, Portland

  26. I have a McClellan saddle that I find stamped 1918 behind the seat (11″) and 1918 stamped on the bottoms of each of the iron stirrups. I was once told it was a calvary saddle but have had someone else argue with me that it is a 1904 Artillery Drivers Saddle. How do I find out for sure what I have?

  27. Just happen to stumble on this again. SO I’ll try to quickly give some specifics. The saddle pictured is clearly a repro as many of it’s feature are not consistant with the ’59. The size and construction of stirrups and hoods, some of the hardware, the tree itself, and especially the saddlebags.
    Next, harness leather was not used for skirts, skirting leather was. Todays harness leather is not period.
    Sabres or canteens on the saddle were abnormal, not the norm. While it occassionally was done there are SOP’s stating not to. Maj. Congdon in his compendium says “never”. Strong words. Besides both were issued with sabre belts and straps through out the war. If done most likely it would have been thrown over a bed roll with said strap. There was no handy snap to hook it to the rings with, as reenactors often use. The rings on the saddle are for the crupper and, at times, other items such as nose bag and haversack.
    next, While some deep south depots produced the saddle from the beginning, in Virginia, the Jenifer saddle was produced in huge numbers. The mac was not adopted until the spring of ’64 by the Confederate gov. Also, I have seen accounts where a trooper says,the yankee saddle he traded for didn’t fit any better than the saddle he had so he got rid of it.
    Lastly, The texas saddle was not generally called the hope, that seemed to be a name used by a company in texas. Period references refer to the texas saddle not hope. When produced for federal use it was called the ranger saddle.
    hope this helps, good luck,
    Todd Kern

  28. I was given a saddle with markings W,S 1918 W,S,V.LOOKS LIKE A MILITARY ISSUE.

  29. je possède une selle MC CLELLAN Mle 1904 il manque un pontet rond avec anneau et un rectangulaire à l’avant,ou puis-je me procurer ces pièces,svp

  30. I purchased a mccellan saddle I have pictures I can email. I need help in trying to find the year this was made. Would also like to know the value of this as well. This is a black saddle 11 1/2 inch seat with a black little skirting screw to the saddle tree. Has no stirrups but English style stirrup leathers.
    Thank you,

  31. Trying to find out what my 1859 mint condition Calvary saddles worth

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